Lauren Petroff

French Cup Victory

As my Ice Mate teammates and I energetically boarded the Ritchie bus to the airport, chattering and laughter filled the air. The thirty minute bus ride to our first destination went very fast. Boarding the plane to Paris (via Switzerland) came even faster. As the plane ride began everyone held onto their seat in anticipation of the rough take off. When we were high up in the sky, I started to concentrate on doing homework. When I looked at the clock, I realized only an hour had gone by, and I still had five long hours to go. Since we were going into a different time zone, we were forced to sleep so we didn’t experience jet lag. When we woke up it was time for breakfast. However, after smelling the plastic and aluminum foil trays and observing the pale, dried out food, most of us opted to skip this meal.

After the two long plane rides we got into a bus that would bring us to Rouen, France, about two hours northwest from Paris. Even though it was February, tulips and daffodils were blooming, showing a hint of spring. Once we arrived at our hotel, The Mercure, we had to check-in and drop off our luggage. The team chaperones told us that we had only thirty minutes until practice. The chaperones’ lines quickly filled with excited and enthusiastic teenage girls ready to have their hair styled. Somehow all twenty-six of us managed to be ready and board the bus in half an hour. As my team entered the large rink, flag colors of many different countries flashed before our eyes. Teams from across the world were warming up with military-like precision. We soon found an unoccupied section of the rink to do our off-ice warm up. When this warm-up was over, we entered our assigned locker room. Music was blasting and everyone was stretching. Skates were being tied and skateguards were slipped on every blade in a very precise manner. Even though it was only a short practice, our adrenaline and nerves were evident in every breath we took and every sentence we whispered.

“Ice Mates, you may now take the ice for your fifteen minute practice,” the announcer said. As all twenty-six of us stroked around the ice striving to become acclimated, spectators could tell this was not going to be one of our strongest practices. As we got into our opening pose, our music began to play. No sooner had we skated a few steps than we fell into a huge pile-up. After recovering from that, we had another serious fall. By the end of the three-minute program we managed to have five falls! Feeling totally defeated, we formed a circle around our coach. She confidently told us to do another run through. The team assumed that this one would be better, but somehow we proved ourselves wrong. We had falls everywhere, and nothing looked put together. We were silent with disappointment when we returned to the locker room. We returned to the hotel for an early dinner, which consisted of crisp, roasted chicken, yellow rice and green beans. A delicious green salad and colorful platter of fresh cheese and fruit finished off the meal. It was soon time to call it a night and head for bed.

The next morning we had to wake up bright and early to get ready for practice. This time, half-asleep, we applied our makeup and had our hair styled. By the time we arrived at the rink and put our skates on, we were wide awake and ready to skate. When our program started, everything was going very smoothly, until we came to our first intersection. A huge collision took place and really affected everyone’s skate for the rest of the program. Skaters were falling left and right. After this horrific run-through our coach wisely told us to skate around the rink to get a better feel for the ice and this French rink. After this practice, many of us talked about how nervous we were to compete against such accomplished teams in just twenty-four hours. For a change of pace for the rest of the day we shopped and did a bit of site-seeing. Before we knew it, it was lights-out for the day.

As the sun came out of the dark sky, all twenty-six girls jumped out of bed. It was now the big day we had been working towards for months. After eating a light, continental breakfast, we scurried back to our room for competition preparation. We all got into our lucky hair and makeup lines for preparation. After hair was hairsprayed to perfection, we changed into our red, white and navy blue USA warmup suits, then filed into the bus and arranged ourselves in our lucky seating arrangement. All the way to the rink we yelled and cheered enthusiastically.

At the rink, we placed our skate bags in our locker room, walked up the stairs to the warm-up section, and began warming up next to our biggest rivals, the novice team from Finland. We said hello politely to the team, but I’m sure anyone observing could feel the tension that existed between us. When finished, we went back downstairs to put our costumes and skates on. After a brief period of team rituals, it was time to line up in the long hallway. We knew that in these five minutes before we took the ice we had to physically and mentally shake off any nerves we had and get into our performance zone.

The announcer called our name, first in French then in English. We could hear the audience applaud, skated into our opening pose, and for the third day in France, our music began to play. Throughout our performance everyone kept smiling and skating with determination. When our program ended, we were in shock! We had the most amazing skate ever! The judges’ marks certainly reflected that, some of them even being higher than some older level teams. We cried and hugged each other with excitement and relief. However, as our rival team took the ice confidently, we could tell that they were going to be great, too. As we watched their beautifully choreographed program and heard the thunderous applause from the audience we were a bit worried at what the final outcome would be. Their marks were very good, but not high enough to beat us - we had won the French Cup! Excitement overcame our bodies as we danced back to the locker room to get ready to participate in a special tribute skate that winners did to a standing ovation from the audience, followed by the award ceremony. The reality of such a victory came when our team captains were positioned at the top of the podium at awards, our national anthem played, and we stood saluting the biggest American flag I have ever seen. It was a moment I will never forget.

Following a delicious celebration dinner that ended with sparkler candles in each chocolate mousse dessert, it was time to go back to the hotel to pack. We had to wake up at three o’clock in the morning to take the bus back to Paris. As we crept through the lobby at this dark hour we couldn’t stop chatting. By the time it was time to board the plane with our carry-ons behind us at seven in the morning, we looked like zombies. When the plane took off, all twenty-six pairs of our eyes were closed for the next two hours. During our layover in Switzerland, we ate breakfast and rested. We watched movies and finished homework during the longer flight back to Boston.

When we arrived back in Boston it felt great. The Ritchie bus picked us up and we did the thirty minute journey back to the Hayden rink in Lexington. As we approached the rink, we could see our parents welcoming us home, cheering and clapping as we got off the bus. We each received a pretty long-stem rose for a job well done. This voyage to France left an amazing impression on me. The experience proved to me how lucky I was to be on one of the best synchronized skating teams in the world, and that many months and hundreds of hours of practice really did pay off in a positive and rewarding way.


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